The increasing interest in autonomous vehicles has spurred significant developments in lidar technology. These 3D lidar sensors are highly valued for their accurate environmental perception by measuring distances with laser pulses and have thus become an indispensable safety component for autonomous transportation. Consequently, they are in high demand from the mobility sector and there is a great interest in the further development of the technology beyond automotive lidar.
From an article in Embedded by Florian Petit.
Lidar had been in use for several years before this surge in interest, primarily in research, mapping, and spatial analysis. However, earlier devices were expensive, often bulky, and required frequent maintenance. Technological advancements have now made them more powerful, less maintenance-intensive, cost-effective, and user-friendly, even for individuals without specialized 3D data analysis expertise.
This transformation has rendered lidar intriguing to a growing number of industries, ushering in new application areas. To illustrate:
Lidar-based volume monitoring solutions generate data on bulk material inventory that was previously challenging to collect using alternative methods. These solutions automate real-time data integration into inventory management systems, contributing to more efficient processes in industries such as agriculture, construction, and recycling.
In the domain of security systems, lidar sensors excel in intruder detection, offering unparalleled reliability and significantly reducing false alarm rates. Consequently, they are ideal for safeguarding critical infrastructure and ensuring optimal protection for objects that require high-security levels, such as power plants and airports.
Lidar is instrumental in crowd management, anonymously tracking crowd movement patterns. For instance, tourist destinations employ lidar technology to monitor visitor numbers and provide real-time alternative destination suggestions via mobile applications when an area approaches excessive capacity, thus alleviating congestion.
What is lidar?
Lidar, an abbreviation for “light detection and ranging”, operates by employing laser beams for distance measurement. The early 3D lidar sensors, as seen on the first autonomous test vehicles, were known as spinning lidars. These devices featured bulky assemblies installed on vehicle rooftops, rotating mechanically to capture environmental data. These early iterations were costly and required regular maintenance due to their moving components.
To mitigate these shortcomings, companies like Blickfeld adopted solid-state lidar technology, eliminating the need for mechanical components. This advancement has yielded more reliable, smaller, and cost-effective sensors.
In solid-state scanning lidars, a laser diode emits hundreds of thousands of laser pulses per second onto MEMS mirrors (micro-electro-mechanical systems) vibrating at their own frequencies. These MEMS mirrors are precisely positioned to deflect the laser beams in a cone shape without mechanical wear and tear. These components can be produced reliably and inexpensively in large quantities, thanks to their well-established development in microsensor production.
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